On Being A Citizen

Armand Mouw

Ernie Simon

Last week, author/blogger/marketing guru Seth Godin wrote about “choosing” to be a citizen.

It was a short piece, but impactful.

Check it out:

“Citizens aren’t profit-seeking agents who are simply constrained by rules. Citizens behave even if there isn’t a rule about it.

 

Citizens aren’t craven partisans, voting for party over fact. Citizens do the right thing because they can, even if the short-term cost is high.

 

Citizens live by the rule of community: If everyone did what I’m about to do, would it lead to a useful outcome?

 

Sometimes we call citizens heroes, which is a shame, because their actions should be commonplace, not rare. The myth of success based on short-term self-interest has been disproven again and again. It seems obvious that leaving things better than you found them is a powerful step forward, because you’ll probably be back this way again one day soon.

 

Every successful community, every organization, every family has citizens. It’s the citizens who define the future, because their commitment to the long-term matters.”

 

I loved this piece, because in recent weeks we lost two amazing “citizens” who embodied that word and were devoted long term players who made a tremendous positive difference over a long period of time.

Armand Mouw was a city commissioner in the 90s, a critical time in Delray’s history. He brought gravitas and business acumen to the dais. He was a military veteran, a construction executive who founded Mouw Associates, a terrific local firm and spoke with a no nonsense common sense rationality that seems so rare today. He passed recently and although I hadn’t seen him around town lately, he was a fixture for decades and left a lasting impact. He was a really good citizen.

Same for our friend Ernie Simon, who passed last week.

Ernie was a pillar of the community for decades, a member of a pioneer family, a judge, an attorney, a devoted Rotarian and someone who deeply loved the Delray Playhouse, which is an unsung jewel in our community.

Ernie always wore a smile. He loved Delray Beach and the people in his community loved him back. He was very special.

Mr. Simon was a citizen who was rooted here, dedicated to this place and someone who made a lasting impact as a result of that dedication.

 

A frequent topic of this little blog is this concept of what it really means to be a village; what it takes to build a community, to put down roots, make friends, give something back, invest yourself in a place.

There are many ways to describe this concept but it can be boiled down to a single word. And that word is love.

Making a decision to serve, truly serve is an act of love. Giving your heart to a place for decades is a labor of love. Mr. Mouw did it. Mr. Simon did it and thankfully we have many examples to guide us, inspire us and if we choose— inform us too.

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about the concept of statesmanship which is defined as “skill in managing public affairs.”

It seems so rare these days.

To paraphrase a song: Where have all the lions and lionesses gone?

The great ones know how to lead, serve, compromise, take the long term view and commit to a cause. They don’t take their ball and go home if things don’t go their way. They understand that in life we win some and we lose some. They are good at building consensus and very good at explaining why sometimes tough decisions—not necessarily popular in the moment—need to be made.

They are grounded. They are future focused willing to build for a tomorrow they may not see. They are the adults in the room.

We’ve had a slew of those types of people in our community: Libby Wesley, H. Ruth and C. Spencer Pompey, Nancy Hurd, Frances Bourque, Barbara Smith, Bob Costin, Bob Currie, Bob Victorin, Kerry Koen, Bob Barcinski, Rick Overman, Vera Farrington, Chip Stokes, Bump Mitchell, Dorothy Ellington, Lula Butler, Joe Gillie, Susan Ruby, Bill Wood and a woman I have gotten to know and love with all my heart Diane Colonna. This list can go on and on and on—mayors, commissioners, police officers, firefighters, city staff, volunteers, business leaders, religious leaders and non-profit directors etc. etc.

Please don’t be offended if you weren’t mentioned on this list—I’m far from finished telling local stories.

I see more than a few bright young leaders coming up who are making some noise on a grassroots level. So I have hope for our future.

We need more citizens and it is something we choose to be; because it is the Armand Mouw’s and Ernie Simon’s who have made this a special place—unlike any other place. Progress is not accidental—sometimes you get lucky but it never lasts. Real, sustainable progress requires citizens—check that Citizens—with a capital C. It’s the Citizens who move the needle and change the game.

We should embrace them, celebrate them and build around them. We have so much more to do.

Thanks Armand and thanks Ernie for a job well done.

It’s our turn now.

Leadership Creates Waves Then Ripples

The best leadership creates waves and ripples.

They say that success is a team sport.

That’s true.
But individuals can really make a difference too. And some people are so special that their good works create ripples that sometimes go unnoticed.
That thought crossed my mind when I attended a recent Boca Chamber luncheon honoring Plastridge Insurance as “Business of the Century.”
Among the attendees and speakers at the event were FAU Research Park President Andrew Duffell, Business Development Board of Palm Beach County President Kelly Smallridge and Chamber CEO Troy McClellan—three influential local leaders who can all point to Plastridge Chairman Tom Lynch as a mentor/catalyst for their careers.
And that’s how it works.
The best leaders create/help/nurture/empower/encourage other leaders.
I’m fortunate to have known many like Tom Lynch whose influence resonate far beyond their own work. These leadership “ripples” are not only gratifying to witness it’s often fun to connect the dots.
Most of my experience with leadership is centered around Delray Beach. It’s here that I saw former Chamber CEO Bill Wood help a long series of leaders reach the next rung by recruiting them to his board and watching them climb the ranks at the Chamber and in the community.
I also witnessed Mayor David Schmidt work with students at Atlantic High School taking many to Delray’s Sister City Miyazu, Japan and sparking in them an interest in international culture and travel.
I’ve seen Marjorie Waldo work her magic at a local charter school and then strengthen an important non-profit, The Arts Garage changing lives along the way.
I’ve seen Chuck Halberg support innumerable non-profits and create some organizations that have helped hundreds of people  including Impact 100 for Men and the Delray Beach Initiative.
My friend Perry Don Francisco’s leadership ripples/waves are everywhere: police officers and firefighters benefit from his work with Delray Citizens for Delray Police, their children  earning scholarships and their careers blossoming as a result of his support and advice.
Three other solid examples are former City Attorney Susan Ruby, former Police Chief Rick Overman and former Fire Chief Kerry Koen.
Susan hired excellent lawyers who went on to become city attorneys in other jurisdictions. She entrusted them with tough cases and as a result– during her tenure — a vast majority of legal work was handled “in house” and very successfully I might add.
Chief Overman turned our police department into a training ground for chiefs. Those who didn’t aspire to be a Chief still found opportunities to grow as detectives, career officers, K-9 officers and community policing specialists. Former Fire Chief Kerry Koen was also well-known for his ability to spot talent and grow it.
Two non-profit executives I admire are also busy minting new leaders: Emmanuel “Dupree” Jackson and his EJS Project are devoted to changing the trajectories of lives in Delray neighborhoods and Mark Sauer’s Bound For College (formerly Delray Students First) has devoted his life to giving opportunities to those who might not otherwise have a shot at college. The waves they are creating are just getting started.
And the list goes on.
Great leaders leave a mark. They influence lives. They leave their communities better than they found them and they nurture others who will go further. They create waves that make a splash, but their ripples endure for generations.
As Simon Sinek so wisely says: The leaders who get the most out of their people are the leaders who care most about their people. 
Amen.

A Legacy of Service: Bump Mitchell

Matthew “Bump” Mitchell

He was a sharecropper’s son who devoted his life to public service.

He was one of a kind and he should not be forgotten.

Sgt. Matthew “Bump” Mitchell passed away last week.

If you’ve been around Delray for any length of time, you’ll know who he is. But life is fast paced these days and if you’re new to town there’s a chance you might not know who Sgt. Mitchell was and that’s just not right.

Because this was a man who touched thousands of lives. This was a role model for generations of local children and one the pillars of Delray Beach. He should not be forgotten. And he won’t be.

Many knew him as a police officer. Others as a minister. Still others as a coach and mentor.

Bump—as he was known—was all that and more.

Although he was born in Quitman, Georgia and considered himself a Georgia Peach, he spent all but three years of his life in Delray Beach molding young people, mentoring police officers, coaching athletes and looking after his flock as a charismatic minister.

To me, Sgt. Mitchell was larger than life.

By the time I met him 1987, he was already a local legend with the city having declared a “Bump Mitchell Day” in 1986.

I rode with him as a young reporter and at first I think he barely tolerated my presence, but Bump was just feeling me out, taking my measure as they say. When he saw that I was committed to his adopted town, he took a liking to me and I found him to be an enormous resource for me when I was elected to the City Commission in 2000. He was there for all the tough times, with words of advice and encouragement—always a calming, strong influence during some turbulent days.

Bump grew up west of town, with cattle and farm animals. He talked to me about unpaved roads and reminded those of us on the commission—in a gentle way—that there was no place for unpaved roads in the city proper. That was Bump’s way of telling us to pave roads in the southwest section of Delray. And we did. We expedited those projects.

While he had a long and distinguished career with the Delray Beach Police Department, working as a detective, a sergeant and as a mentor to young people he was equally well-known as a tough but fair coach for the legendary Delray Rocks football program.

He commanded respect on and off the field and guided generations of young men on the pitfalls of life if they made poor choices.

Later, I saw him a few times preach from the pulpit of Christ Missionary Baptist Church where he delivered powerful sermons and looked after his congregation with love and affection. He was also a chaplain for the Police Department where he dealt with some very serious issues—especially in the 80s and 90s, when crime was rampant in Delray and the department struggled to gain the confidence of the community.

Ultimately, the department forged good relations with residents and business owners and it made a huge difference.

There is no Delray Beach– at least as we know it–without our Police Department and it was officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell who made all the difference by going consistently above and beyond.

From mentoring children and intervening in tough situations to walking neighborhoods with residents and old fashioned police work , our department rose to the occasion and made this place safe for investment; made it a safe place to live, because there were times in the 80s when that was a real question.

We are not perfect and there is still too much crime, but compared to the 80s, it’s night and day a better place. It’s a better place because of  committed officers like Matthew “Bump” Mitchell.

They don’t do it for the money–because the compensation isn’t that great, especially when you consider the toll and the risk, both physical and emotional. The best ones–and Sgt. Mitchell was most definitely in that category–do it because they have a love for the community, a feel for people, a desire to serve and beyond tough facades hearts that yearn to help people. As a detective known for his work with juveniles, Bump helped countless kids and taught many officers how to do so as well.

At the Community Foundation, there is a scholarship set up in Pastor Mitchell’s name.

On that page is a brief description of the man and some testimonials too.

There are two testimonials from two other Delray Beach legends—former Mayor Leon Weekes and teacher, coach, civil rights leader C. Spencer Pompey. Both were influential and consequential men.

Here’s what they said about Bump Mitchell.

“Bump Mitchell is as dedicated an individual as I’ve ever known in dealing with the youth of Delray Beach. I’ve known him for 25 years, and he’s always been available to help kids, whether it be in delinquency matters, athletics, counseling, even to the point of taking children into his own home.  He’s a jewel in our community.  I wish we had more people like him.”

Leon Weekes,

 Former Mayor, Delray Beach

 “I don’t know anyone who has contributed more to the well-being of our society than Bump Mitchell.  He was quarterback on Carver’s 1954 championship team and one of the truly great athletes we’ve had there.  Bump was truly versatile, lettering in football, baseball and track.  Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his work in the community with the Rocks Football Team.  He was honored a few years ago by our church as the recipient of the citizen of the year award, and is truly one of our most outstanding citizens of the last 30 years.”

                  -C. Spencer Pompey,

                    Teacher and Coach.

Two legends speaking of another.

Matthew “Bump” Mitchell will be missed, but surely never forgotten.

 

 

Thanks Joe

Mr. Debonair

Mr. Debonair

Editor’s Note: Joe Gillie officially retired this week as President and CEO of Old School Square. A celebration of his legacy will be held Nov. 7 at Old School Square. To get tickets visit http://delraycenterforthearts.org/

 

I remember the first time I met Joe Gillie.

It was 25 years ago and he was a board member at Old School Square, which at the time was a fledgling experiment in a town trying desperately to change its narrative.

It was 1990 and Delray Beach was a very different place. In March, the city held a landmark election and elected a slate of candidates who promised to reform government, bring stability to City Hall and implement what was being called a “Decade of Excellence.”

The 80s had been a rough decade for Delray, also known as “Dullray” back then. The city had serious crime issues, the downtown had major vacancies and the crack cocaine epidemic had engulfed entire neighborhoods. But there were signs of hope all around. Visions 2000 brought people together, there were plans to reform schools, a new CRA was doing good things, historic districts were being established and the Decade of Excellence Bond passed with huge voter support, promising over $20 million in needed improvements and beautification.

A year later a visionary police chief was hired and a new chamber president too. It was a time of hope and promise and Old School Square was at the forefront of civic endeavors charged with being a catalyst for downtown revitalization.

Two years after I met Joe, he became President of Old School Square. By 1993, he was in charge of our first bid for an All America City Award and when I say he was in charge, he was in charge.

Joe managed every detail using his theatre background to craft a presentation that literally blew the judges in Tampa away. I recently found archival footage of that event and it was remarkable to see our diversity and spirit in action—and it was remarkable to see Joe’s leadership at its most impactful.

He incorporated young and old, black and white, east and west into a team. In baseball they call it clubhouse chemistry; that intangible that makes champions. Joe was the architect of that chemistry and the vehicle was the All America City Competition.

When you view the footage from that event, you see a young Mayor Tom Lynch, civic giants like C. Spencer Pompey, dedicated city staff like Lula Butler and Dorothy Ellington, residents like John Tallentire and Sandra Almy and you just marvel at the energy, spirit, humor and camaraderie. There was trust among neighbors, people loved their city and trusted their local government enough to go millions of dollars in debt in order to achieve a vision.

Old School Square itself was a big risk, and you can see in founder Frances Bourque’s eyes her trust and belief in a young Joe Gillie to pull off a vision that if successful would mark a huge turning point in the city’s rich history.

In hindsight, winning that first All America City Award was the propellant we needed as a community to tell the world that things in Delray were changing and we were serious about lifting up all parts of our community.

Joe Gillie was at the forefront of those efforts. He, along with many many others, helped to win two All America City Awards and we became the first city in Florida to do so.

But Joe was our captain. In Joe, we trusted. He kept this city focused, laughing and moving forward through good times and challenging times.

Joe was a different kind of leader. He wasn’t walled off in some office, he could be found in the trenches, usually with a broom in those early days, but always with a larger than life personality that greeted patrons, promoted shows, programs and classes and always talked up the larger goal which was building community through culture.

We hear, often, how people are replaceable. How no one person is larger than the mission or more important than the enterprise. Part of that old saw is true, except that people are not replaceable.

There will be people who serve as President of what is now called the Delray Center for the Arts and hopefully they will do a great job in the role. But there will never be another Joe Gillie. He’s an original; a Delray original by way of Virginia.

In August, I attended a surprise party for Joe at Smoke. It’s not easy to surprise Joe, but it happened. Many of his friends were there and it was a wonderful night, full of memories and laughs, but with Joe in the room there is always talk about the future.

Joe is departing from his role, but he’s not retiring. He’s a creative force and creative beings don’t stop inventing and innovating. He will act. He will sing. He will write. He will paint and he will continue to be a vibrant and positive force in our community.

During the party a loop of old photos ran on the wall in back of Smoke. Joe looking dapper in a tux. Joe with hair. Joe and me and Gary Eliopoulos dressed as rappers (Joe is the only guy who could get me to do that or to get Diane, my wife to sing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs with localized lyrics at a roast in front of 450 people). Joe made us believe. His time here was magical—pure magic. How lucky we have been.